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On the morning of my first speech, I was so nervous that I seriously considered slamming my car into a tree on the drive to the convention center. That way I’d have good excuse for missing the event. And if it meant they could’ve gotten that hour back, my audience probably would’ve voted for my car-crash idea.

A successful presentation is a very tricky task. In the years since that first speech, I’ve studied the [censored for publication] out of this art form, to learn how to give talks that connect with audiences and deliver results.

Here are a few of my best tips to help you make your next presentation a winner.

1. Greet attendees as they arrive

Your presentation actually begins before you utter your first word. It starts when the first attendee enters the room. Get there early and meet people as they arrive.

You’ll feel much more relaxed during your presentation if you’ve already had a nice, personal exchange with each attendee — and they’ll be more likely to be on your side, too. Just a few seconds one-on-one with the event’s main speaker can make an attendee feel more invested in that speaker’s success.

2. Use concrete language

Your goal whenever you speak is for your audience to hear what you’re saying, remember it, and take whatever action you want them to take. So don’t speak in abstractions. Use clear, concrete language.

Don’t say:
Our goal is to position ourselves as the industry leader and differentiate our offerings in the marketplace.

Make it concrete:
Why are we better than our competition? We need to answer that question, persuasively, for ourselves first. Then we need to get out there and tell the world.

3. Paint images with your words

This is a live presentation, not a written memo your audience will be able to review at their own pace. They’re going to hear your words only once. The more important your message, the more important it is for you to provide them with images they can hear, visualize and remember.

Don’t say:
We should coordinate our efforts interdepartmentally to obtain visibility in the media outlets that cover our organization.

Make it colorful
:
We want our customers opening up the New York Times and reading about the cool stuff we’re up to. So let’s give our PR team whatever support they need to make that happen.

4. Tell stories

To be an effective presenter, you need to engage your audience intellectually, but also emotionally. Telling stories helps you connect with their emotions.

Don’t say:
Increasing communication across departments will save the company substantially.

Make it memorable:
Want to know why it’s critical that we all know what’s going on in other departments? In the 1990s, Volvo had an excess of green cars. People just didn’t want them. So Sales and Marketing offered special deals to move those green cars — and they actually started selling. But no one explained this to Manufacturing, who thought this meant that customers liked green cars again — so they started making more of them!

Plant an image in their minds — preferably a strong, vivid image — that persuasively and memorably makes your point. Your audience will be more likely to connect with you, remember your idea, and start thinking creatively about how to support you.

5. Make eye contact as often and with as many people as possible

One of the worst myths about public speaking is that it’s a good idea to look past the audience, to find someplace in the back of the room and stare at it. How can you make a real connection with your audience if you don’t look directly at any of them?

Make direct eye contact with one member of your audience for a few seconds, and then move on to someone else in the room. Don’t do this in a linear, predictable manner, though — such as starting with the person in Row 1, Seat A, and then moving on to Row 1, Seat B. That’ll quickly become obvious to your audience and will feel staged and insincere.

Instead, jump around the room and make eye contact with attendees in all different areas of your audience. If you do this right, it will make your attendees feel like you’re talking directly to them, and it’ll help you feel less like you’re presenting to an entire room and more like you’re having a series of one-on-one conversations.

6. Use strategically placed pauses and silences

Many speakers are in such a hurry to get through their presentation, they hardly stop to breathe. Don’t make this mistake.

A well-placed pause, or a couple of seconds of strategically placed silence, can be highly effective because:

  • It can help you make a point more dramatically, by giving your audience an extra second to let it sink in.
  • It alerts your audience that you’ve concluded one point and are going to move on to something new.
  • It can give you a chance to breathe, relax and prepare your transition into your next subject.

7. Make your audience part owners of the presentation

If you just stand at the front of the room and talk, never engaging or involving any of your attendees, two things are likely to happen — both bad.

First, your audience will feel much less a part of your presentation. If the talk feels more like a one-way lecture than a conversation meant to spark their minds or their imagination, your attendees are much more likely to tune you out.

Second, because they won’t feel that they’re truly a part of the presentation, your audience will probably feel less invested in helping it be a successful one.

This is why it’s so important to include your audience in your talk, to make them feel like part owners in the event. They are, after all. Just as no song can be a hit unless the music-buying public makes it one, your presentation can’t truly be a success unless your attendees come away from it thinking of it as a success.

So bring your audience into your talk as much as possible. Refer to attendees by name in your hypotheticals and examples. Conduct relevant impromptu polls throughout your presentation, asking for a show of hands or for attendees to shout out their answers. Give your audience an active role. If it’s their talk, too, they’ll be much more likely to be your ally during the event and to view it as a great presentation afterward.

8. Use visual aids, handouts and interaction

There’s yet another reason to use whatever strategies you can to bring your audience more fully into your presentation. According to a large body of research on learning modalities, people tend to remember:

  • 10% of what they read
  • 20% of what they hear
  • 30% of what they see
  • 50% of what they hear and see
  • 70% of what they say and write
  • 90% of what they say and do

To deliver an effective and memorable presentation, you’ll want to engage your audience on several levels. If people remember only 20% of what they hear, your chances of creating a great presentation aren’t very high if the gathering consists solely of you talking and the audience listening.

Add some visual aids — use interesting images, for example, or include some physical “props” in your presentation — and now your audience is both hearing and seeing. That increases the amount of what they’re likely to remember from 20% to 50%.

And if you can also get them brainstorming about new ideas, working in groups, jotting their own suggestions on the room’s whiteboard — well, now they’re hearing, seeing, saying and doing. That means they’re far more likely to retain a great deal of what you presented.

9. Don’t leave the Q&A session for the end

This sounds counterintuitive. We’re used to having a speaker tell us to hold our questions until the end. The danger here is that, as the presenter, you give up control of the room at the end of your presentation — just as your audience is about to leave and record their final memories of your talk.

So schedule a Q&A session for a brief period just before the last section of your presentation. This gives you the chance to deliver the dramatic or inspirational closing you want.